|24 Apr 2019|
|Arts & Culture|
|The following article was published in the Telegraph, January 2019: |
We asked the author and journalist, 80, what his childhood self would make of his life.
There have been times when it looked as if I wasn’t going to see tomorrow morning’s breakfast, but my life has been studded with good luck. There was good luck to get into the Royal Air Force at 17, good luck to get my wings, good luck to be taken on as a foreign correspondent in Biafra, good luck to work in Paris and East Berlin at the height of the Cold War, and then good luck to be able to turn lots of that into books.
Now, there will be people reading this who’ve been in far more fights than I have, but if I could tell my younger self about all this, he’d still probably say thanks for keeping me alive! If he was five, he’d say: “I wanted to fly, and you did it for me.” If I could meet my 30-year-old self, I would probably be highly critical, because I’d tell him that he really effed up by going to West African jungles and getting himself shot at and impoverished, and coming back without a bean in the bank.
At that age and earlier, I was as naive as any youngster. I was dogged, tenacious and rebellious, and that came from the numerous beatings I sustained at a very brutal public school [Tonbridge]. I never liked the establishment, which I thought was largely corrupt and self-serving, but I liked it even less after Biafra, where the British government behaved disgracefully. I think my boyhood self would approve of my attempts to report on it. If I were talking to him now, I’d say: “Do what you think you have to do, but don’t buckle, don’t chicken out. You’ll risk poverty and worse, and occasionally you’ll be threatened, and occasionally it will appear advantageous to bow the knee. Don’t do it.”
By 40, I’d been writing novels for a few years, and my younger self might say that I wasn’t doing too badly, considering I seemed bloody broken at 30. Writing novels was the stupidest way imaginable of getting out of a jam, but The Day of the Jackal seemed to hit a nerve, and the rest, I suppose, is history.
I married at 35 and I never thought at the time that we would divorce, but 15 years later we did. The marriage did produce two fine lads, though, Stuart and Shane, who now have young children of their own. Having grandchildren is terrific. My second wife, Sandy, and I live quietly in Buckinghamshire, occasionally going to theatres in the West End, and that’s enough for me.
So, unless I go completely crazy, which I don’t intend to do, the rest of my days should be comfortable. As for the future, I may survive the next decade but I’ve no lust to be 90. I don’t know what I’d do, beyond what I’m doing nowadays, which is getting up in the morning, reading the Telegraph and the Mail and having all my prejudices reconfirmed, brewing up a cup of char and then going down the pub for lunch.
It’s a calm life, a peaceful life, and whether it will go on I don’t know, but I certainly have no mega projects. Do I have a bucket list? I think I’ve done just about all of it. Australia? Been there. How about scuba diving? Done that. Hey, look, you could go up the Rockies – been through the Rockies. Central and South America? Been there. So I don’t want to be big-headed about it, but I’ve been to all the places I want to go, I’ve done just about all the things I ever wanted to do, I’ve met all the people I really wanted to meet, I’ve seen whatever I wanted to see. The life of an old codger beckons, but I’m not upset about that at all.
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